MEPs praise and criticise Presidency's social and employment policy programme

On January 21, the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs met for an exchange of view with Uldis Augulis (Latvian Minister of Welfare) in order to discuss on the programme of the Latvian Council Presidency in the area of employment and social policy. 

By Hendrik Meerkamp

26 Jan 2015

Last week, the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs met for an exchange of view with Uldis Augulis (Latvian Minister of Welfare) in order to discuss on the programme of the Latvian Council Presidency in the area of employment and social policy. Please find a summary of the debate below. Note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

Uldis Augulis, Latvian Minister of Welfare, began by saying that the overarching theme of the priorities of the Latvian Council Presidency in the field of employment and social affairs is ‘inclusive and sustainable labour markets’ because this reflects well the need to facilitate quality employment and job creation as well as inclusion of risk groups and poverty reduction.

He said that, in this context, this theme will be broken down and operationalised by taking action, in the non-legislative field, concerning the following:

  • Quality of jobs. There will be meetings of the Council’s advisory committees ‘Employment Committee’ (EMCO) and ‘Social Protection Committee’ (SPC) in February and then of the full Employment and Social Affairs (EPSCO) Council with a view to developing and adopting conclusions with concrete suggestions concerning effective support measures and improved access to labour markets for vulnerable groups;
  • Occupational safety and health (OSH). Conclusions about this are planned to be adopted by the EPSCO Council in March. They will focus in particular on disease prevention, OSH awareness-raising, support for small and micro businesses in matters related to OSH, and the adaption of work management systems to older workers (while not interfering with the needs of young workers);
  • Youth unemployment. Even though all Member States have adopted their national Youth Guarantee implementation plans, the Council Presidency will work on their effective implementation;
  • Long-term unemployment. There is a European Commission initiative in the pipeline to bring down this type of unemployment, and the Council Presidency will proceed work on the basis of this initiative;
  • Persons with disabilities. The Council Presidency wishes to bring new momentum to the needs of disabled persons and advance the sharing of best practices on equal opportunities for the disabled – especially when it comes to matters of child care, inclusive education, employability, deinstitutionalised care, and independent living. To this end, a high-level conference is planned to take place in May in Riga;
  • Gender equality. As a first step in the launch of a broader discussion on pensions adequacy, Council conclusions concerning the gender pensions gap are scheduled to be adopted by the EPSCO Council in June. They will interlink with a communication on the topic that the European Commission is currently working on; and
  • Social dialogue. The Council Presidency will put high value in hearing the social partners on different issues of interest. In the context of the Latvian Council Presidency, the Latvian social partners will hold several events.

Mr Augulis then announced work on a number of legislative files will complement these activities. He said that these files are, most notably those on:

  • European platform to enhance cooperation in the prevention and deterrence of undeclared work. The Council Presidency hopes to steer this file towards an agreement with the European Parliament in inter-institutional negotiations.
  • seafarers’ directive. The Latvian Council Presidency is ready to start discussions on this file with the European Parliament and hopes to conclude this file by the end its term in office at the end of June;
  • EURES. The Council Presidency is ready to start negotiations on this file with the European Parliament;

Elisabeth Morin-Chartier (EPP, FR), who spoke on behalf of the EPP group, noted that those aged up to 25 are actually worse off than the age group 25-30 years and asked what the Presidency intends to do about the lack of perspective for the latter age group in particular.

She also wanted to know what the Presidency’s plans are with regards to bringing down early school leaving without diplomas and to boost adult and lifelong learning and the validation of professional skills.

Finally, she wanted to know how the Presidency intends to help women – who she said have been hit particularly hard by the crisis in a variety of ways - and whether Mr Augulis can really ensure that the seafarers’ directive file will be closed this summer.

Jutta Steinruck (S&D, DE), who spoke on behalf of the S&D group, asked how the Presidency wants to combat social dumping and push the European Commission to be more ambitious when it comes to fighting long-term unemployment.

Moreover, she wanted to know about the Presidency’s view on the so-called maternity leave directive proposal, which has been stuck in the Council for several years and which the European Commission has indicated to withdraw if no agreement on it can be found between the European Parliament and the Council by summer.

Marian Harkin (ALDE, IE), who spoke on behalf of the ALDE group, asked about Mr Augulis’ view about how EURES can be made function more smoothly than is currently the case.

In relation to the implementation of the Youth Guarantee in the Member States, she asked whether the Presidency will encourage the Member States to frontload their spending.

She also asked for more concrete information about planned initiatives to increase job quality and advance equal opportunities for the disabled.

Neoklis Sylikiotis (GUE/NGL), who spoke on behalf of the GUE/NGL group, said that in the past years, tools such as austerity measures as a response to the crisis as well as the European Semester did not bring about many quality jobs but a breakdown of social rights and social dialogue instead in many Member States instead. In this context, he wanted to know what the Presidency intends to do to restore social dialogue and actually bring about an improvement on labour markets and to the social situation for the people.

Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA, UK), who spoke on behalf of the Greens/EFA group, asked whether the Presidency has specified where new jobs are planned to come from, and if yes, whether there have been considerations to focus on job growth in the green sector, too.

She also wanted to know if the health and safety training for short-term workers, which faces problems currently, will be addressed by the Presidency.

Finally, she wanted to know whether the Presidency will take measures to ensure that the investment package will not lock workers into the low-pay and low-qualifications sector.

Laura Agea (EFDD, IT), who spoke on behalf of the EFDD group, noted that the recent structural reforms that the EU advocated in EU Member States such as Greece did in her opinion not work in the favour of the social welfare people and asked what measures the Presidency intends to take to promote social protection again.

In relation to the EURES file, which is to facilitate labour mobility in the EU, she wanted to know if this will not be a tool by policy-makers to fight employment just by making people move (involuntarily) from their home to where there is work.


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